I've been in business over 17 years. When I started out, I had no idea what I was doing or what to do. I came from health care, hospitals in particular, and always worked in markets where mine was the only hospital in the area. This means we didn't worry about marketing all that much, only putting out press releases when we were offering new services.

self employment
work desk

What this means is that I made a lot of mistakes early on, even though I got my first contract within 3 months and my first speaking engagement a month after that. I went through some hard times until I finally figured things out, and then went through more hard times when the economy tanked for a couple of years.

Below are 10 lessons I wish someone had given me or that I'd already thought about at the time that I want to pass on to you. The only other lesson I want to give you, which isn't included below, is that if you're going to do this you should either see what you can do on a part time basis while still working a full time job or put away at least 9 months worth of cash that's enough to pay your bills and cover things like food and gas; other things can wait. This means you have to budget (gasp!), but you should be doing that anyway.

If you're already in business but struggling, some of these might help you also; it's worth considering in any case. Here we go:

1. Office Supplies And Business Cards

Something that almost everyone does when they go into business for themselves is go to the office supply store and start buying a lot of things they were used to using at work. I went out and bought boxes of pencils, pens, paper, folders, staples, rubber bands… let's just say a lot of stuff. All these years later the only thing I actually have used is the paper; I still have all that other stuff in a drawer away from my desk because I've never had to use any of it. I could have saved a lot of money right off the bat.

I decided to include business cards here because what I also did was go out and buy business card stock paper and made my own cards. While it ended up saving some money, it made me look like an amateur, only I didn't notice it at first. The costs of business cards aren't all that much and they'll look great and last longer than you think they will. A word of advice; don't put too much on your business card because you want to leave yourself somewhat flexible. Something you might want to think about is putting your picture on your card; more people will remember your face than your name.

2. Writing Skills

If you can't write a simple email where you spell all the words correctly, don't understand capitalization and punctuation, and don't know the differences between "there, they're and their", your business is going to be in trouble before you get started. You either need to know how to write or need to find someone to write or edit for you.

You will have competition and even if you think none of it should matter because you're the best in town, you'll never get to show that you're the best in town if you're not perceived as a professional. You're not being asked to write a dissertation every time out, but if the way you contact people looks shoddy they're going to perceive you're going to lack enough care to give them quality performance.

3. Business License

This might seem like a small thing but it's a big deal to clients you're hoping will pay you a lot of money for your services. There are some potential clients who see this as a big deal, and having that little certificate with a state seal on it makes you look like someone who cares a lot about your business.

If you go through this route, here are a couple of pointers. One, when it comes to picking a name, decide whether you want it to be eponymous (your name in the title), whether you want to use a made up name or use the name of something you're familiar with. If your name is John Smith, you're going to find it hard to stand apart from the crowd. If you use a made up name like "levestervisor", you'll always have to explain your thinking, which could get tiring. If you use a common name, you might be stepping on someone's copyright or trademark without realizing it, which would bring bigger issues later on.

Also, realize that what you call yourself on your business license doesn't have to define what you call your business. Under my license and corporation, I've had other businesses listed at different times. If branching out isn't something you're going to think about in the future, then it helps to establish yourself under one name and move on with your career.

4. Website

Remember how I mentioned above that you should keep your business card simple? One of the things you should be able to put on your business card is a web address, so if someone is interested in knowing more about you later on they can check you out there. A website's main purpose is to get more information out about you, your services or your products and allow people to see it at their leisure.

Another benefit to having your own website is adding an email address with your domain included. You look more professional that way than using a Gmail or Yahoo email address and it helps reinforce your business name in people's mind.

5. Find A Mentor Or Networking Group

Working on your own is a lonely thing. It's hard to talk to a spouse or a friend about your business issues, or even how you're feeling, if they're not independents. A mentor should be someone who either does what you do or has worked as an independent for some time who won't mind giving you some advice from time to time, even if you just need someone to listen to you.

A networking group is another way to find like minded people who are either going through the same things you are or have been there and can offer you advice and encouragement. If you're lucky you'll also be able to learn something. I've belonged to a local independent consultant's group for 10 years and it's been invaluable.

6. Determine What You Want To Do

Don't be boring

This is a bigger question to consider than you might think. You might be able to do many things but only one of them proficiently. Or you might be able to do a lot of things very well and can make money off all of them, but determine that one is easier to market than all the others. You also might decide that within a field you can do multiple things, but one is what you want to concentrate on because either it's the one you do best or you know, based on your background, that it's an area seriously lacking.

You can do a lot of things if you want to but initially try to find one main thing to concentrate your advertising and marketing efforts towards. If you decide you want to mention other things you can do, that's what your website is for. Just make sure to break things up so you don't confuse your visitors too much.

7. Start Off Advertising To Only 25 To 50 Potential Clients

When you're a new business, what you want to do is get known. A big lesson to learn is that it's easier getting known by a few people than by everyone. Even if they don't all respond, initially concentrating on a smaller number of people or businesses will help you gain name recognition, and that's an important step for long term business.

It's harder if you have to market to a wide region, but if there's a networking group where a lot of these folks are members then it's the smartest way to go. Of course you don't want to get irritating either so think about maybe sending something out once a week at most, but definitely once a month.

8. Study Marketing, Not Selling

Marketing and selling aren't the same thing. Selling is something you do when you're trying to close the deal. Marketing is something you do when you're trying to get business or at least get people's attention. Marketing is the most important thing for anyone looking to move forward, even those who are working for someone else and looking to be promoted.

There's all kinds of marketing: personal networking, mailers, email, social media, blogging… each works but some works better than others depending on the industry. However much money you spend on learning your craft you should be spending an equal amount learning how to market until you're comfortable with it. If you don't want to do it and have the money, pay someone to help you get it done.

9. Figure Out What You Want To Charge, Then Add 25% Or Subtract 20%

When I was first starting I was charging people exactly what I had been making while I was working for someone else; where was my benefit?

When you work for yourself, you have to think ahead towards those times when you don't have a current contract and have other expenses that you now have to pay for that you didn't before, such as health insurance, quarterly business taxes, and professional services (learn early how to use services to handle things you might be able to do but ends up taking time from your business such as accounting services, landscaping services, etc).

I had to learn quickly that I needed to be charging more, way more, based on the type of work I did and how much money my clients were making off my efforts. Some people have to come to that way of thinking slower, hence the recommendation of charging at least 25% more than you were thinking about.

On the other end, some people overvalue what they believe they should be paid. Starting with a higher number might get you excluded, or it might be a nice starting place where, if need be, you can modify your fee slightly downward and still get a nice return from it. The only worry here is to not discount any services before someone shows interest but says they can't pay that much, and when you reach your lowest level make sure you stay there. If you discount too much too soon word gets out and you'll find it hard to get what you deserve to be paid.

10. Learn, Modify, And Reinvent

Always be ready to modify what you believe you can do to make money. Being flexible is always a benefit for you. From 2009 to 2011 business was slow, so I reinvented myself by starting a social media marketing company that specialized in writing services. I made enough money to pay my bills, and that was very important during a tough financial period. I also did some other things that I was good at to make some extra money and was able to get some of those gigs by talking to people in my networking groups. You never know who knows someone that can use a service you can provide.

Never stop learning, whether it's specific to your job, your business, or just general knowledge. Always be thinking about your business and ways to get more out of it. Trust in yourself and never give up, but be willing to modify and reinvent parts of yourself and your business when necessary.

I hope these lessons help you if you're considering or newly self employed. Almost everyone goes through things like this and has to learn these lessons, so you're not alone. This is a good start to your new career... you're welcome! 😉